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Ian's displaced reflect on Thanksgiving in a shelter

Mike Walcher
A shelter for those displaced by Hurricane Ian still operates in a mostly-empty shopping plaza in North Fort Myers. Some people there reflected on spending Thanksgiving in a shelter.

As many as 300 people will wake up Thanksgiving morning in a shelter in North Fort Myers. Many of those displaced by Hurricane Ian have been living in shelters for nearly eight weeks.

Nineteen-year-old Mason Wilkins is one of them. He spoke with WGCU while getting some sun outside the shelter. He said he'll give thanks this holiday.

"I'm just grateful to have a roof over my head and a place to sleep,"  Wilkins said. He explained tht Ian flooded the room where he was staying in a North Fort Myers trailer, destroying his belongings.

Michelle Stumme is not so pleased about Thanksgiving in the shelter.

"Sad.  I'm just sad.  I cry not just for me, but for everyone in there," she said. Ian destroyed her trailer, she said, although she added that FEMA believes it could be repaired.

Seventy-three-year old Michael McNeal said he hopes to salvage his boat in the Caloosahatchee River at downtown Fort Myers. He rode out the hurricane on the boat, and wants to go back to living on the boat, as he had been doing in recent years.

"People ask me: were you scared?   I say:  I was terrified!" he said. "Oh I am thankful to be alive."  

McNeal added that he refuses to let a shelter holiday depress him.

"Home is where the heart is.  And my heart is in a good place," he said. "If you want to find God, come to one of these shelters.  The way the care-takers, uh, take care of the people, and how the people take care of each other. It's something to behold ya know.."

Shelter residents have case workers, and everyone is trying to find a home on the outside.

Fifty-seven-year-old Don Louk said that patience and hope should be on this year's turkey day menu.

"I'm joyful, joyful in that I feel the Red Cross is going to work to get my housing, they're going to take care of it," Louk said. He explained that the storm wiped out a room where he was staying in the Naples area, so he joined other storm refugees in shelters in Lee County.

"The people that are here are the blessed ones," he said. "So mind your P's and Q's, get what's offered to you, and see what happens."

MIchelle Stumme said she and her husband will make the best of a shelter holiday.

"I think people will come together.  Hold hands, maybe share a prayer.  Try to get through it,"  Stumme said.

Mason Wilkins said he has a plan for Thanksgiving.

"I have people I love," he said. "They are not here with me right now.  But I can call them, or FaceTime them. And I can hang with my friends over here."

Forty-one-year veteran of television news in markets around the country, including more than 18 years as an anchor and reporter at WINK-TV in southwest Florida.